Each day for the next two weeks we’ll review how each position group performed in 2013, and take an early look at 2014. Today we’ll examine the defensive ends. We've already done the offense, including quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends, offensive line and wide receivers.
Recap: The Jaguars’ pass rush produced 31 sacks, which was a significant improvement from the NFL-worst 20 they had in 2012 -- but it was still last in the league (tied with Chicago) and little more than half of Carolina's NFL-best 60 sacks. Babin led the Jaguars with 7.5 sacks, which is the second-highest total by a Jaguars player since Paul Spicer had 7.5 in 2007 (Jeremy Mincey had 8.0 last season).
Sacks can sometimes be an over-rated statistic. Quarterback hurries are a good indicator of pass rush as well and the Jaguars totaled just 29 hurries in 2013, including 18 combined by Babin, Branch and Alualu. Individually, Minnesota defensive end Brian Robison had 27 and St. Louis defensive end Robert Quinn had 21.
Though he had just 1.5 sacks, Alualu had a solid season as a run-stuffer (42 tackles). His position in Gus Bradley’s defense isn’t designed to produce a lot of sacks. That falls to what the Jaguars call a leo, which is a hybrid end/outside linebacker. That’s the spot that Babin and Branch manned.
It appeared in training camp that Branch, the team’s second-round pick in 2012, may not make the roster but the former Clemson standout flourished under the tutelage of defensive line coach Todd Wash and defensive coordinator Bob Babich. They got Branch to consistently work and play hard and the results gradually appeared on the field. He ended up finishing second on the team with 6.0 sacks.
Ryan Davis spent the first nine weeks on the practice squad before joining the active roster. In just his second game he turned in one of the biggest plays of the season, intercepting a deflected pass to seal the Jaguars’ victory at Houston.
Looking ahead to 2014
The skinny: Babin has the option to declare himself a free agent, but a more likely scenario for him to remain with the Jaguars is to renegotiate his contract because he’s scheduled to make $6.175 million in 2014. He said he is willing to do that because he would like to remain in Jacksonville.
Branch’s development in 2013 leads to the hope he could post double-digit sacks in 2014, but that will depend on whether Branch continues to improve his consistency and how hard he’s willing to work in the offseason.
Regardless of how much he improves and Babin’s situation, the Jaguars are going to address the pass rush in the draft. Jadeveon Clowney could still be available at No. 3, but if he isn't there are other options (Khalil Mack, for example). It would be surprising if the Jaguars don’t add at least two pass-rushers in the draft and another one in free agency. Other than quarterback, this is the team’s most glaring need.